“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”  – Robert F. Kennedy

Dear Main Street Community,

Every now and then I get what I call a ping. It’s this bolt of energy and emotion, like a current. Perhaps it’s a feeling. A feeling of excitement, pride, and maybe even relief…all at the same time. That’s what happened when I saw Tristan and Grianny working a Thursday shift together at The Soulfull Cafe. Tristan, who’s 23 and has autism, is a part-time barista. Grianny, a high school junior, helps out at the cafe as part of his work study program at Main Street. The two of them had become friends—real, actual friends who have their own handshake—and I was witnessing that. And even though that shouldn’t have been a big deal, it was. I remember thinking, This concept is working…this is inclusion! This is what Main Street is all about.

We wrote about Tristan and Grianny in our February newsletter, about the unexpected bond between these two young men who both love cars and video games. Right before the story came out, I was on the phone with a friend, Mark Shriver, who’s the head of Grianny’s school, Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park. We were talking about how this one organic connection could help spread the mission of inclusivity. Like a ripple. At 17, Grianny had befriended a coworker with intellectual disabilities. Not because he was supposed to—he just liked the guy. “Everyone has characteristics that are unique to themselves,” he told us. “It doesn’t make a difference.” And that’s how it starts. That’s how change is created. Grianny takes that mindset home to his family, his school, his community. The ripple spreads and permeates, without us even knowing how far it extends, who it touches or where it leads.

Before we hung up, Mark shared a powerful quote from his “Uncle Bobby.” And then I kept thinking about two things: One, that he’d just referred to Robert F. Kennedy as Uncle Bobby, and two…that tiny ripple of hope.

FOR THE LAST SEVERAL MONTHS, if you have been in my sphere at all, you have heard a gigantic “hello.” Whether it’s from me personally or through presentations or Main Street’s annual report, I’ve woven in this theme as a reminder that kindness can start in the simplest form, a greeting.

This past January, I gave a presentation at Suburban Hospital entitled Hello. We talked about why that word matters so much, why it’s so important for patients to feel like more than a number. Our program and membership manager, Isabel, spoke about invisible disabilities and how she’d struggled for years because none of the doctors could figure out what was wrong with her and she didn’t think they were taking her seriously. She said she would never forget the rheumatologist who finally told her: “I believe you, I believe your symptoms, and I see and hear you.” There it was again: that tiny ripple of hope.

The next day, an employee from Suburban who’d attended our presentation sent me the following message:

This morning, I left the ICU after a meeting and got in the elevator with two visitors who were clearly distraught. They were each holding a box of tissues and looked emotionally drained. In the past, I probably would have chosen to give them their privacy. Instead, I looked at both of them and simply said “hello.” They smiled and started a conversation with me that ended with the three of us wishing each other a good day. It really does work. Thank you for the reminder Jillian!

Of course this story got me thinking (again) about what happened next—you know, the ripple effect. I define a ripple to be a current, almost like an electrical current caused by an action or event that spreads outward and influences other people and/or future outcomes. (A different kind of current than the ping.) I think about this often as every action (or inaction), every act of kindness and even our own positive or negative energy is felt by those in our sphere and perhaps beyond.

We’ll never know what happened after that nurse said hello. But chances are, if you’re reading this, next time you’re in an elevator you’ll say hello to someone, too. Then that person will say it to somebody else. It all seems so simple, right? But sometimes it isn’t.

A FEW MONTHS AGO, around the same time as my Hello presentation, I had a conversation with a close friend. We discussed AI (Artificial Intelligence), the state of our country and the fear we have for our future. My friend abruptly said, “stop!” as every topic and all parts of life were creating a sense of fear for her. She needed to ignore the noise and she completely shut down. I get it. I too have been in this space.

I validated her feelings and shared my own frustrating moments. I encouraged her to take a moment, reduce the incoming information (perhaps take a break from the 24-hour news cycle), breathe, and find her center—this could take hours, days or even months. And I realized that she is feeling like so many other people.

While we are post-pandemic, I believe we’re still reeling from the impact of the social isolation and disconnection, from the stress, pain and loss—and the pace of today’s post-pandemic world isn’t sustainable for our bodies and minds. The information overload, the over productivity and even the traffic raises our cortisol levels. Just look at the rise of illness, mental health challenges, suicide, anger, bullying, antisemitism and hate.

Of course we are all untethered. Many sustained the pandemic, held it together, but now have lost our way, our beloved inner internal ripple of hope—some can’t even muster the energy for a hello. Could it be that we all need some recalibration, some rest, some nourishment and love?

I believe the answer is yes. My friend isn’t alone, paralyzed by fear, worry and perhaps grief—and this is the current, the ripple we share…sometimes without even knowing.

It’s time for a change, friends. It is time to find our inner ripple of hope, love, inclusion and kindness. It may not be easy, but we need to find it…and we can. We need to love ourselves, slow down and breathe in LIFE. We need to care about our neighbors, to seek a just world, and to get back to our inner sanctum of self, family AND community.

It’s okay if it takes some time. Baby steps and small wins. But we need to start, and soon—so that we can collectively change the current. Many of us are struggling with things that can’t be easily fixed. Or cured. Or conquered with a heavy dose of optimism. So we have to take care of one another, stranger and neighbor. Let’s spread joy, find justice and restore hope.

Let’s start by opening our hearts to self and others, celebrating and savoring the peaceful and happy moments, finding gratitude for each breath that we are so fortunate to take. Let’s take one thing we “have” to do out of our day and substitute it with something we choose to do, something that makes us smile. Perhaps it is just taking a walk, listening to the birds or a song that lifts our spirits—maybe even reconnecting with an old friend? Let’s find and appreciate what it is that slows us down, gives our life meaning, recalibrates our center, reminds us of the love, the power, the passion and gratitude within.

Then and only then can we spread this positive ripple, a ripple that can start with HELLO!

With love and light,